Insert Media’s Next Move

In the past three years, alternative media became what it should have been called: insert media. And it was done with a bang: a highly successful Insert Media Day in 2003 followed by an even more successful one in 2004. Coupled with sections in DM News and heavily attended holiday “Toasts,” we’re off and running.

Now it’s time to do some heavy lifting so that we do not slide back. Several issues affecting the players need to be addressed by the Direct Marketing Association Insert Media OpCom Committee. With the current momentum, we can push through and never look back.

In no particular order, some of these issues are:

Industry statistics. With direct mail and targeted marketing back in the eye of the advertising community, according to recently published reports, it is time for insert media to be clearly defined and accounted for. Every trade publication should be made aware of the industry’s scope, and the DMA should move more decisively to include statistics on insert programs. Ironically, card decks, which are a diminishing subset of inserts, have their own set of statistics in most surveys while insert programs do not.

Publicity and success stories of mailers and program owners. Historically, the nature of the insert industry is such that relatively little has been written or spoken by successful mailers. It is a medium that to see it, one must buy a product, open it and take out the inserts. Successful marketers make for good copy, and the insert industry has many such stories waiting to be told both from the mailer and the program owner’s side.

Uniformity. The insert industry’s background is one of entrepreneurs building their businesses. This is the past. Now every list brokerage firm has some insert activity. Every broker and manager uses different forms and operates off different criteria. There are two sub-issues here. The first is the definition of delivery, distribution and payment. The second is the inevitable electronic interchange. The first will lead to the second and provide cost savings that the industry needs.

Education. Just as direct mail is now a significant part of marketing courses in many colleges, insert media needs a platform for itself. Granted, it is not a major medium, but a comprehensive introduction to the subject easily will cover a full day. Direct mail clubs and major direct marketing courses should be contacted by a group of “instructors” who will conduct seminars on insert media.

More mailers. The industry needs more mailers. Those mailers already involved would take issue with this. After all, they have proven the medium works and are not interested in competition. The truth is that program owners need fresh participants to maintain their revenue stream. There is a burnout in this medium as there is in all other media. Many mailers have had one experience with inserts and need to review the expanded industry to see what they are missing.

Industry acknowledgment. The annual “Roast and Toast” has been one of the more important events of the new “Insert Media era.” It is time to think about the new generation of brokers and managers and reward them for their dedication and success. Without trampling on the “Toast,” these young people should have their own day to be lauded. The same criteria for selection will motivate the new generation. Also, mailers can submit inserts for critical review by a panel of “experts,” and the best in various categories can receive appropriate prizes. The most successful campaigns based on various criteria also can be considered for prizes.

Expansion. The industry is expanding by adding new insert programs. This makes sense as profit margins are tighter, costs are higher and installing an insert program is relatively easy (but not that easy). The real expansion comes from unique solutions to various challenges: for example, reducing the weight and/or size of inserts to fit into smaller venues, or finding industries that do not accept or place inserts and persuading them to use the medium. What about an insert in every Ford?

History. Insert history is fascinating, yet few are aware of what went into getting started, and most certainly are unaware of much before 1975. There are terrific stories to be recorded in the insert and the list side of our business, and someone needs to do it before it’s too late.

The insert industry involves more than brokers and managers and mailers. It includes program owners as well as lettershops and printers. Each of these participants should consider what they could do to keep the ball rolling.

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